Consumer Tips

PROTECTING YOURSELF IN A COMPLEX MARKETPLACE — Our researchers and attorneys provide key tips for how you can shop for the best bank, get the best car loan, protect against identity theft, and more.

The Best Ways to Protect Yourself

Being a consumer in today’s marketplace can be tough. Financial decisions in particular often require navigating a torrent of misleading advertisements and pages of jargon-filled small print. Even the simplest choices — everyday financial decisions like opening a credit card, creating a bank account, applying for a loan, or sorting through cell phone contracts — can take time, energy and knowledge that too many of us don’t have.
   
Many financial institutions don’t set out to make it easier for their customers:

  • 1 out of every 20 Americans — millions of consumers — have errors on their credit reports significant enough to raise their rate on loans.
  • Financing cars through dealerships costs consumers more than $25.8 billion in additional hidden interest.
  • From 2005 to 2010, identity theft rose by 33%. In 2012, an estimated 12.6 million Americans became victims. That is 1 victim every 3 seconds. 
  • Banks made around $11 billion in overdraft fees in 2015, fees they pitched as “overdraft protection” but actually cost consumers more.

Despite these practices, there are ways to protect yourself. We want to help. This is why we’ve created the following tip sheets based on common complaints to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the Federal Trade Commission. Read on. Protect yourself from becoming a statistic.

File a complaint if you have a problem

For all sorts of everyday consumer problems, there are government resources that can help. Federal agencies like the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and Consumer Product Safety Commission exist to protect us from unfair or dangerous products. Submitting complaints to government agencies can help resolve your problem AND it helps these agencies hold companies accountable for unfair practices. For more information, consult our tip sheet on the subject, which includes information on how to contact the CFPB with financial complaints, the CPSC with toy and other product safety complaints, the NHTSA with car safety complaints, and DOT with air travel complaints: How to File a Consumer Complaint and Use Government Databases.

Keeping Track of Your Money:

Credit Reports, Credit Scores, and Identity Theft:

Common Consumer Problems:

Please note that these tips are not intended as, nor should they be construed as, legal advice. If you need legal advice dealing with a consumer problem, consult an attorney.

Issue updates

Blog Post | Consumer Protection

Utilities pause disconnections in response to pandemic | Eva Haraldsdottir

As more and more Illinoisans are forced to stay home from work by the COVID-19 outbreak, paying utility bills is a looming concern among many. Many will be faced with a combination of declining income and increased energy bills because of increased energy consumption while staying home.

> Keep Reading
News Release | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Coronavirus worry triggers most surgical mask, sanitizer prices to spike at least 50% on Amazon

As the Coronvirus outbreak became more widespread, the price of most of the sanitizers and masks rose at least 50 percent higher than the 90-day average. Even one in six products sold directly by Amazon saw prices rise at least 50 percent higher in February

> Keep Reading
News Release | Illinois PIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Year-end report: Struggling Peoples Gas pipe program once again behind schedule, over budget 

Peoples Gas released its fourth quarter report Tuesday on its troubled pipe replacement program, which was the subject of a highly critical Illinois PIRG Education Fund report last June. Peoples Gas’ own data shows that for the eighth consecutive quarter --  a period that spans every quarterly report on the project -- the program is behind schedule and over budget. 

> Keep Reading
News Release | U.S. PIRG | Consumer Protection

Hack doesn’t absolve Equifax of being careless with consumers’ data

Congress must hold companies accountable for failing to protect condumers' confidential information.

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Blog Post | Consumer Protection

Peoples Gas Engineering Study Ignores the Tough Questions | Abe Scarr

On Friday, Peoples Gas submitted an engineering study to the Illinois Commerce Commission. The study gives Peoples Gas, the Commission, and the public the first empirical look at the condition of the Peoples Gas distribution system in decades. That’s critically important information as Peoples Gas continues to run its troubled pipe replacement program.

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News Release | Illinois PIRG | Consumer Protection

Statement: Facebook settles for $550 million in case alleging privacy violations

 

Facebook announced Wednesday that it had reached a $550 million settlement with plaintiffs over alleged violations of the Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act (BIPA), although Facebook has denied any wrongdoing. BIPA, passed in 2008, requires private entities to acquire informed consent before collecting individuals’ biometric information, such as facial recognition scans, thumbprints, or voiceprints. 

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News Release | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Deadly infant products sold after recalls at T.J. Maxx, Marshalls, HomeGoods

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) announced today that discount stores T.J. Maxx, Marshalls and HomeGoods sold 19 different recalled products to consumers between 2014 and 2019. In the case of five products, the stores’ parent company TJX initiated the recall. The products included the Rock ‘N Play and Kids II inclined infant sleepers, which are responsible for a number of fatalities, rattles that can break and pose a choking hazard, and electronics that overheat or explode.

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News Release | Illinois PIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Quarterly report: Struggling Peoples Gas pipe program once again behind schedule, over budget

Peoples Gas released its third quarter report Friday on its troubled pipe replacement program, which was the subject of a highly critical Illinois PIRG Education Fund report in June. The report shows that for the seventh consecutive quarter --  a period that spans every quarterly report on the project -- the program is behind schedule and over budget. 

> Keep Reading
News Release | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Heartburn medication recalls continue due to carcinogen concerns

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has confirmed today that the drug manufacturers Dr. Reddy’s and Perrigo have initiated a voluntary recall of all of their generic versions of Zantac (ranitidine) -- commonly used to treat heartburn -- due to carcinogen contamination.

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Report | Illinois PIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Why You Should Get a Security Freeze BEFORE Your Information is Stolen

The first defense against any kind of identity theft is to be vigilant about protecting your personal information by taking steps like creating secure passwords, installing anti-virus and
anti-malware software, and shredding personal documents. However, if and when someone does steal enough of your information to commit identity theft, there is really only one type that you can stopbefore it happens: New account identity theft, where someone opens a new account in your name. All other types of identity theft and fraud, at best, can only be detected after the fact.

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Report | Illinois PIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Mortgages and Mortgage Complaints

This is the sixth in a series of reports that review complaints to the CFPB nationally and on a state-by-state level. In this report we explore consumer complaints about mortgages, with the aim of uncovering patterns in the problems consumers are experiencing with mortgage originators and servicers.

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Report | Illinois PIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Trouble in Toyland 2014

Among the toys surveyed this year, we found numerous choking hazards and five toys with concentrations of toxics exceeding federal standards. In addition to reporting on potentially hazardous products found in stores in 2014, this installment of the report describes the potential hazards in toys and children’s products.

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Report | Illinois PIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

The Unfriendly Skies

It seems as if every consumer has an airline travel story—how they were trapped on the tarmac, tricked by fees, missed their connection, or lost their bag. What many consumers don’t know is that they have a number of new rights as well as a right to complain, both to the airline and to the government. This report tracks five years of consumer complaints and highlights which airlines received the most complaints and what kinds of complaints were most common.

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Report | Illinois PIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Debt Collectors, Debt Complaints

This is the fifth in a series of reports that review complaints to the CFPB nationally and on a state-by-state level. In this report we explore consumer complaints about debt collection, with the aim of uncovering patterns in the problems consumers are experiencing with debt collectors and documenting the role of the CFPB in helping consumers successfully resolve their complaints.

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Blog Post | Consumer Protection

Consumer Tips and FAQ about the Equifax Breach | Mike Litt

Hackers gained access to the personal data of over 145 million Americans in the Equifax breach. Here are some recommended actions consumers can take to protect themselves and answers to frequently asked questions.

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Blog Post | Public Health, Consumer Protection

#KickTheCan: BPA still found in many grocery stores’ canned foods | Dev Gowda

We’re all told to watch out for BPA in drinking bottles and baby products. But how about BPA in the cans that contain our food? A recent study by Center for Environmental Health (CEH) reveals that the toxic chemical BPA is readily found in canned foods. BPAs are often used in the liners of canned food to keep the aluminum from interacting with the food.

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Blog Post | Consumer Protection

Protecting Consumers from Runaway Gas Bills | Abe Scarr

The Illinois Commerce Commission is considering action that could hike Chicago gas bills for decades to come.

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Blog Post | Consumer Protection

Protecting Consumers from Runaway Gas Bills | Abe Scarr

The Illinois Commerce Commission is considering action that could hike Chicago gas bills for decades to come.

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Blog Post | Consumer Protection

Consumers Count: Five years of the CFPB standing up for consumers | Kathryn Lee

This week, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau turns five years old! As part of our efforts to tell more people about the CFPB, we're cross-posting this video blog and comments written by Zixta Q. Martinez of the CFPB (check out the infographic at the end, too!).

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News Release | U.S. PIRG

A new study that tested for PFAS in food containers from six restaurant chains found that, out of 29 unique samples, 14 tested above the screening level for fluorine, suggesting PFAS treatment.

Blog Post

Every quarter, the Chicago gas delivery utility releases a report on its pipe replacement program. Unfortunately, the first quarter report shows the program continues to struggle: not prioritizing public safety and risk reduction, behind schedule and over budget, and increasingly unaffordable.

Blog Post

Johnson & Johnson will end the sale of talc-based baby powders--which can be contaminated with asbestos--in the United States and Canada. That’s a big win for consumers, but it’s not enough.

News Release | Illinois PIRG Education Fund

The Chicago City Council today passed a resolution calling on Gov. J.B.  Pritzker and the Illinois General Assembly to reform the troubled Peoples Gas pipe replacement program. The program has been beset by management missteps, cost overruns, and an inability to reduce pipeline failure rates. The program is increasingly unaffordable for many Chicago residents: in 2019, Chicagoans fell $60 million behind on their heating bills and Peoples Gas sent out more than 300,000 disconnection notices. 

News Release | Illinois PIRG Education Fund

The Illinois Commerce Commission has agreed to settle a lawsuit filed by Illinois PIRG Education Fund and GlidePath that alleged it deliberately excluded select consumer advocates and industry experts from participating in its NextGrid Study process, while allowing ComEd and Ameren to fund, shape, and approve a report designed to influence Illinois energy policy. 

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